CARMARTHEN very much needed three points from this match to consolidate their place in the top six of the Welsh Premier League and they produced another highly-spirited display, brimming with energy and commitment, which had only one crucial flaw – an absence of goals.
The match began at a frantic pace on the accommodating 3G surface with Town showing positive intent, pressing forward in search of an early lead while the hosts, in turn, were looking lively on the counter-attack. Yet initially both defences were dealing comfortably with that pressure and the first notable scoring chance did not arise until the 9th minute when Keiran Lewis sent a long free-kick into the crowded goalmouth where Mark Jones managed a subtle glancing header that ‘keeper Dave Roberts was well placed to claim.
But only moments later Llandudno went ahead. James Joyce burst forward into the penalty area where he fell rather easily in the vicinity of two defenders – yet clearly this was convincing enough to persuade the referee to award a penalty despite the strong protestations of Carmarthen’s players. Lee Thomas stepped up and confidently drilled home the spot-kick just beyond the outstretched reach of ‘keeper Lee Idzi.
The Old Gold responded well and continued to enjoy a good deal of possession and territorial advantage. However their attacking options seemed to lack the vital width and pace normally provided by the explosive, determined running of flying winger Kyle Bassett – because of Town’s current unprecedented injury problems, he was required to undertake more pressing defensive duties.
But they went close to restoring parity on 12 minutes when Declan Carroll received the ball near the centre-circle and raced forward past defenders then struck a rasping 20 yard drive that flew narrowly wide of the post. And after 19 minutes another searching Lewis free-kick reached Jones in the packed goalmouth only for his promising close-range header to be turned over the bar by Roberts with a smart reflex save.
Then on 24 minutes Llandudno threatened with an incisive break that finished with Thomas firing a left-wing cross deep into the penalty area where Lewis Buckley produced a skilful angled volley that went just too high.
The only remaining incident before half-time arose in the 34th minute when following a goalmouth scramble in the visitors’ penalty area Ceri Morgan was left prostrate on the ground – worryingly, after lengthy physio attention the key midfielder was stretchered off the field and replaced by Danny Thomas, Town’s only available substitute.
After the interval Thomas was instrumental in the first decent scoring chance on 50 minutes as he threaded the ball neatly through to Carroll who dispatched a 25 yard shot that cleared the bar.
But, as in the first-half, Llandudno abruptly halted the visitors’ early pressure with a goal – in the 52nd minute a long left-wing cross found Jamal Crawford beyond the far post and he played the ball back perfectly for Danny Hughes to rifle it past Idzi and into the top corner of the net.
However that further setback simply served to inspire the Old Gold into even greater effort. After 62 minutes a crisp 25 yard free-kick by Lewis took a deflection off a defender that sent the ball narrowly outside the post. Then on 69 minutes Bassett played a fine ball through to Carroll who from a wide position inside the penalty area released a fierce angled drive that finished in the side netting.
Yet Llandudno were still an occasional threat on the counter-attack and shortly afterwards a long cross from the left-wing found Hughes who unleashed a powerful 25 yard strike that flew marginally too high. But generally Town’s rather makeshift defence, missing three regular performers due to injuries and suspension, were capably containing that threat – in particular Dwaine Bailey, who has seemingly struggled with form and fitness problems since the start of the WPL programme, was a commanding presence at the heart of the defence reminiscent of his outstanding debut season for the Old Gold.
And even in the later stages Carmarthen’s players, knowing there were now no fresh, fit substitutes available, remarkably found yet more reserves of physical and mental stamina to maintain a spell of pressure in search of goals up to the final whistle.
On 74 minutes the ball was played through to Jones who moved forward then hit a stunning 20 yard drive that defeated Roberts but crashed against the post – while Carroll was quick to pounce on the loose ball at the edge of the penalty area, under pressure from a defender he fired it just wide of the target.
Then as the match went into added time the tireless Jones, demonstrating commendable enthusiasm and persistence, chased into the penalty area after another hopeful through pass and from the by-line he played the ball across the goalmouth where Danny Thomas, sadly, blazed his close-range shot over the bar.
With this defeat the Old Gold drop to seventh place in the WPL and with only four more matches to play before the end of the first-phase programme they will surely be targeting their next game (on Saturday 17th December k/o 2.30pm) at home to Rhyl, the team currently with the worst away record in the League, as a ‘must-win’ contest. But with yet further injury problems now arising, fans will be wondering what sort of squad manager Mark Aizlewood will be able to assemble.
Team: Lee Idzi, Kyle Bassett, Dwaine Bailey, Dan Sheehan, Craig Hanford, Lewis Harling, Ceri Morgan (Danny Thomas 34), Keiran Lewis, Declan Carroll, Mark Jones, Liam Thomas.
Unused Subs: None.
Cards: (Y) Ceri Morgan (21), Declan Carroll (60).